Celebrating Inspiring Nurse Leaders

Unique event encourages frontline nurses to develop as leaders

By Kelly Hancock, DNP, RN, NE-BC

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In a highly engaging forum, Cleveland Clinic’s Stanley Shalom Zielony Institute for Nursing Excellence recently celebrated more than 125 frontline nurse leaders at an event designed to inspire and encourage through leader-told stories.

The event, known as “Nurse Leaders Tell Their Stories: Looking Forward, Looking Back,” is hosted by the Zielony Institute’s Image and Brand Council, and throughout the past three years, it has become one of the institute’s most treasured leader initiatives.

What makes the event so unique is that it gives frontline nurses an opportunity to personally connect with health system nurse leaders in a rare way – with the goal of helping them to continue on their own leadership paths. The event highlight is a panel presentation. During the panel, four to five Cleveland Clinic leaders – from associate chief nursing officers, chief nursing officers, nurse specialty leaders to nurse directors, senior nurse researchers and others – share inspiring stories of their unique career paths. They talk about challenges, influences and mentors; and they offer advice and other helpful information on specialty areas and professional development.

Attendance to the celebratory evening is by invitation only to around 150 frontline nurses who have been identified as leaders. Invitees may be those who are recommended by nurse managers or clinical directors; progressing on the Zielony Institute’s Professional Career Ladder program; participating in the Office of Nursing Education and Professional Development’s LEAD (Leadership Enrichment Appreciative Dialogue) course; or active Shared Governance presenters.

In addition to the panel discussion, attendees enjoy an introductory welcome reception, question and answer session, and a post-reception networking hour.

Recognizing the leader within

The first “Looking Forward, Looking Back” event was held in April 2014, and due to its great success, the celebration has been held semi-annually ever since.

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Aside from how impactful this type of initiative can be for a nursing organization’s leadership development, it’s also noteworthy to point out how and why this event came to fruition at Cleveland Clinic.

In 2011, Cleveland Clinic’s Zielony Institute created the Image and Brand Council, which is comprised of nurses throughout the health system, ranging in roles from frontline caregivers to chief nursing officers. The council’s purpose is to define, strengthen and advance Cleveland Clinic’s image and brand to attract nursing excellence globally.

One of the council’s first priorities was to conduct internal and external research on the visibility and perception of nursing at Cleveland Clinic.

Internally, the council instituted a survey that was completed by more than 2,000 nurses from Cleveland Clinic’s main campus and regional hospitals. One of the survey questions asked nurses to name the top five words they use to describe themselves. Common answers included:  advocate, courageous, creative, critical thinker and innovator; however “leader” was almost nonexistent. In fact, more than half of the nurses who completed the survey said the word they would least use to describe themselves was “leader,” making it clear that Cleveland Clinic nurses didn’t view themselves as leaders unless they had formal leader titles.

These results, combined with other research – including review of two articles that appeared in the Journal of Nursing Administration on authentic leadership and leadership aspirations of registered nurses – led the council to create the event to help celebrate bedside nurse leaders at Cleveland Clinic.

Pay it forward

Each “Looking Forward, Looking Back” event produces valuable feedback for Cleveland Clinic Zielony Institute’s Image and Brand Council.

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At the most recent event, which was held in April, a selection of caregivers who now fulfill leadership roles expressed that there was a time when they never thought they would go to college or earn a degree. Additionally, many attendees noted that their mentors were also in attendance – showcasing how Cleveland Clinic’s nurse leaders are paying it forward through ongoing support.

The next “Looking Forward, Looking Back” event, to be held later this year, will celebrate nurses who excel in their specialty practice. Invitees will include a selection of certified nurses, and panel participants will feature nurses who serve in leadership roles for local, regional and national specialty organizations and associations.

Kelly Hancock is the Executive Chief Nursing Officer of the Cleveland Clinic Health System, and Chief Nursing Officer of Cleveland Clinic Main Campus.

Follow Kelly on Twitter at @kkellyhancock.